Chris' Sydney Trip | A Night with Josh Niland at Saint Peter
Sep 25, 2023
When word first came out that chef Josh Niland was doing a masterclass through Broadsheet Access in September. I jumped at the opportunity to learn from the best in the industry. Timings worked out well since this class happened to land on the same time as the Fine Food Expo, so it was a no-brainer that I'd fly up to Sydney and attended the class in between the two days that the expo ran.
On the night of class, I took a leisurely stroll from Surry Hills to Paddington, arriving at Saint Peter where the class would be accompanied with an eight course degustation and wine pairing. The night was structured with Josh talking through each dish as he and the team served each course so that we could taste the result of his processes, whilst highlighting his philosophies around sustainable fishing and butchery. I was lucky enough as one of the very few solo diners to be sat right in front of his station, so that I was able to peer right over to see how he demonstrated the preparation and plating of each dish.
For those in the food industry and recently to many of the food-minded public, Josh is well known as a pioneer in the world of cooking in regards to sustainable fishing practices. The main over-arching problem in the industry is how much of the fish is actually wasted, contributing to global problems such as over-fishing and food waste. We are all part of the problem. In large, the fishing industry, chefs and consumers all contribute to this problem. The solution is not to stop eating fish, but to not just consume the fillet which generally only equates to 60% of the fish weight - meaning every fish netted or caught - 40% goes directly to waste. It is our job as chefs and fish butchers to change that mindset. How do we use the remaining 40% effectively and change the view of the public to not just see fish as a fillet of meat but as a whole?
Throughout the night Josh showcased how the proper preparation of fish allows you to preserve and dry-age a product without the the development of ‘fishy smells’ - serving 21-day-aged Murray Cod that tasted better than many ill-prepared fish that were caught on the same day. His explanation of gathering scraps of meat from the head and other areas to produce fish charcuterie or other products was amazing. His flathead mortadella, dare I say, tasted better than a traditional pork mortadella!
There were more provocative dishes where he produced noodles out of the bones of fish; cooking them down to a paste then kneading it with flour to produce a workable dough, or his well known fish eye ice cream. These as he mentioned are not for everyday recipes but just shows how far you can take this idea of really using 100% of a product all the way down to the bone - literally!
Josh explained the meaning of fish butchery. With red meat, we recognise a multitude of cuts but fish, all we know is the fillet. We need to change this idea and treat fish as meat. Different types of fish have different qualities. Different cuts are for different uses. Through education of these practices, we can get the most out of a product. It is my job to take what I have learnt in this class and integrate that in my practices.
Growing up in Hong Kong, I have grown up with eating whole steamed fish as soon as I could eat solid food. I have no aversion to eating the meat from the head and sucking on the juices from the bone. But I understand that it may be quite the struggle for others, so I do think it is important to learn these new techniques and ways where I can present other cuts of fish in more palatable ways.
The Saint Peter team were incredible from the front of house staff - Nina, Brice and Houston - who were happy to answer any questions in regards to their roles in supporting the restaurant. And of course the chefs - Erin and Owen - who worked non-stop in producing a wonderful meal while also bringing examples of fish from the back whenever Josh mentioned a particular technique they were working on. The night ended with Josh’s famous lemon bergamot meringue tart and also some time to ask Josh several industry-related questions that applied to us. He also offered notes on how to improve and achieve more sustainable practices that not only applied to fish, but to a broader philosophy in treating products with respect and our role in changing the world through food.
I left with a signed copy of his newly-released book: Fish Butchery, which continues to delve deeper into these techniques mentioned above. A great experience all-round and perhaps one of the most informative masterclasses I have had the pleasure of attending. I hope to put what I have learned to practice very soon!